As Republicans rush vote, Democrats have few tools to block Supreme Court nomineeSeptember 29, 2020
Senate Republicans are moving full steam ahead toward a confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett before Election Day -- and there is little Democrats can do to stop it.
While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will "strongly, strongly, strongly oppose" the nomination, he has conceded that, save Republican support for Barrett collapsing, his party has few options to slow her ascent to the court, even though progressive activists have clamored for such an outcome.
"Mitch McConnell has so commandeered the Senate, has so defiled the Senate, that there are fewer tools and they are less sharp," Schumer said Sunday. "But what is there, we will use."
Schumer has repeatedly bashed McConnell for moving forward with Barrett's nomination less than two months to Nov. 3 despite having blocked Judge Merrick Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated nearly nine months before Election Day.
Democrats - in the minority four years ago - were powerless to stop McConnell from blocking Garland then, and Jim Manley, a former senior aide to then-Democratic Leader Harry Reid, told ABC News Democrats are almost equally powerless now.
"If there would've been the silver bullet to stop these things, it would have happened after Merrick Garland," Manley said.
For all of Schumer's criticism of McConnell, he is now taking a page from the GOP's 2016 playbook and refusing to meet with Barrett.
"I believe first that the whole process has been illegitimate and second because she's already stated that she is for overturning the ACA," Schumer said. "I will not meet with her."
Other Democrats are following Schumer's lead.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted Sunday that she will also refuse to meet with Barrett and a spokesperson for Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, confirmed to ABC News that she also won't meet with her. Politico reported that Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Jeff Merkely, D-Ore., will also pass on meeting Barrett.
Not all Democrats agree. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told ABC News' "This Week" Sunday that he intends to speak to Barrett, at least over the phone.
Regardless of meetings with individual senators, Barrett will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 12 to begin three to four days of hearings, the panel's chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, announced Saturday.
After the hearings, Democrats can delay the nomination from being reported out of committee for a single week, according to committee rules. But even with that delay, Barrett's nomination could still be teed up for a final vote on the Senate floor before Nov. 3.
Bill Hoagland, a former senior aide to then-Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist, told ABC News that an "act of God" may need to intervene in order to prevent Republicans from moving forward.
"To be honest with you, there is very little that I can see that Democrats can do as it relates to stopping the proceedings for the consideration, hearings, and voting it out of committee and then on the floor," Hoagland said.
There are a few procedural maneuvers that could gum up the usual workflow of the Senate, but Democrats concede that these moves won't be enough to cause a serious delay.
Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff and spokesman for Reid, suggested in a New York Times column last week that Democrats could make it more difficult for the Senate to proceed with its business by trying to limit quorums or making use of a procedural rule that prohibits committees from meeting two hours after the Senate begins its work for the day.
Schumer made use of this two-hour rule last week, blocking the Senate Intelligence Committee from an election security briefing as a retaliatory measure.
"Because the Senate Republicans have no respect for the institution we won't have business as usual here in the Senate," Schumer said.
But Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, told ABC Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that it was "wrong" to think these sorts of maneuvers would be enough.
"We can slow it down perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at the most," Durbin said. "But we can't stop the outcome."
While some Democrats have challenged the legitimacy of both the nomination and confirmation hearings, arguing for a boycott, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have in recent days quashed speculation that they may not attend, despite having reportedly mulled the option over during a call last week.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who also said he would refuse a Barrett meeting, told reporters last week he had not heard of any of his colleagues planning to skip the hearings.
Durbin on Sunday said he will "be there to do my job."
Democrats, first and foremost, are expected to use the hearings to highlight the damage they believe the conservative jurist could cause to health care if she is appointed to the court.
"I want to ask her point-blank, as I'm sure others will, whether or not her position is that we should end the Affordable Care Act providing health insurance for 20 million Americans and protections for Americans from one coast to the other from pre-existing conditions being used against them when they buy health insurance," Durbin said.
Democrats have almost universally rallied around the fate of health care law — a top 2020 campaign issue for voters — as a primary objective in blocking Barrett. Just one week after Election Day, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case which could potentially scrap the Affordable Care Act and its protections allowing coverage for people with preexisting conditions.
Despite Democratic furor at Barrett's consideration in a presidential election year, the confirmation hearings are expected to give an unprecedented platform to the party's vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., less than a month before the election.
Harris has garnered attention for her dogged, prosecutorial style of questioning, something that even caught the attention of her eventual running mate, Joe Biden, himself a former Judiciary Committee chairman.
But any hope Democrats have of adding more liberal justices to the court -- by increasing the size of the court -- will have to wait until after the election.
Schumer has said repeatedly that "nothing is off the table" if Barrett is appointed and Democrats take the Senate and the White House in November.
This could mean altering Senate rules to allow legislation to pass with a simple majority rather than needing 60 votes to move forward, as is currently the case.
Despite predictions that such acts could irrevocably imperil the chamber, Manley told ABC News that in the shadow of the "ghost of Merrick Garland," Democrats must act.
"I, for one, would have no problem with the Senate going down that path," Manley said.